I finally completed my manuscript about the 1st Newfoundland Regiment during WW1. At this time Newfoundland was a country, a colony of Great Britain. When England declared war on Germany, the country of Newfoundland was automatically at war.
I’ve done much research into the Newfoundland men who enlisted in 1914 to fight for ‘King and Country.’ The majority if not most of these men had never been to English, yet felt a loyalty I found amazing. My own father who fought in the WW2 felt the same pride and loyalty towards England, and as Newfoundland was not yet part of Canada fought with the British army.
July 1, 1916, Over eight hundred Newfounlanders went ‘over the top’ from their trench known as St. John’s Road and tried to cross No-Man’s Land in France to reach the town of Beaumont-Hamel. Within a mere thirty minutes over seven hundred of these men were either dead, wounded or captured. This was a devastating blow to the Regiment and to their loved ones at home. All in all on that one day, twenty thousand men died, forty thousand wounded.
Newfoundland never fully recovered from this tragedy as many of our finest and best were lost. The population of St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland was thirty thousand. Eighty percent of the men originated from the city.
Some contribute the disaster at Beaumont -Hamel to incompetence on the part of British generals, sending men into battle when reports received from earlier survivors stated the Germans were well armed and concealed. The seven day incessant bombing of German trenches by the British had little effect.
Much of my information came from the son of a survivor from the battle at Beaumont-Hamel. I’ve expressed, through my characters, his sentiments about the British Generals and the war in general. He was injured and captured at the battle of Cambrai. His leg was later amputated due that injury.
My father would never speak about the war, and in writing this novel I had a sense of the hardships he must have endured fighting for five long years. After his death at 56, we came across a postcard he’d sent his mother from France. He was nineteen at the time.This is what he’d written on the back. ‘Soldiers can survive bullets, but not the cold and hunger.’
In writing this novel I’ve become even prouder of Newfoundland, more in tuned with the tragedies that shaped the people, customs and traditions. Many times during the hours working on the manuscript I wished my father could read it and let me know if I captured the brutality of war.
At the end of long months of research and writing I almost fell like I lived through the “Great War’, ‘ the ‘War to end all wars’. I sometimes think it had the opposite effect.